Fake news, boilers and the Beeb

13th Mar 2017


I put fake news in the title just to get your attention, what I should have written is “interpretation of data” but it lacks a certain something.

Last week gas boilers made the BBC; its website and R4 Today, had mention of gas boilers – all part of their “So I can breathe” season. Unfortunately, selective use of data by them set hares running (it is March after all).

The BBC website stated : Zoom into Central London, and just 5% of NOx comes from private diesel cars. That is dwarfed by 38% from gas for heating homes and offices.”

Given the furore over poor air quality, that would raise eyebrows. Unfortunately, the headline is somewhat removed from the actual data – interpretation not fake news. Having located the source data, what the figures show is that 38 per cent of NOx does indeed come from gas combustion, but only 5 per cent from domestic boilers and cookers; the remaining 33 per cent from non-domestic sources.

This is for central London, where air quality issues are different to the rest of the UK. About a year ago, we produced an internal report into air quality impacts of domestic boilers, suspecting this agenda would become more high profile. Some interesting stats came out of it. In the early 1990s, over 4000 g per year of NOx was emitted per household from gas boilers; pre 2005 boilers gave out at best 2340 g per household but post 2005, this figure was down to 390 g per household.

This means that since 2003, there has been a steady reduction in NOx from domestic gas boilers, by 2013 they contribute less than 2 per cent of overall emissions.

So a bit more care in the choice of stats would have meant a quieter week for me, but at least we were able to dust off our Air Quality Report. That said, it does beg the question about non-domestic appliances and their contribution to poor air quality. In addition, with business carbon emissions also comprising 17 per cent of the UK’s total, compared to 13 per cent for residential, focus on this sector is long overdue. So far Government has ignored this area, how much longer can they afford to do so?

 PS If you want the answer to last week’s question about the barge journey, sorry but you’ll have to wait.